Liverpool flattered as luck eludes Moyes' men

Everton 0 Liverpool 2
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The Independent Football

The barbs came thick, fast and sharp after the second goal, including the harsh irony of "David Moyes is a football genius." But there are few genuine bragging rights for Liverpool today. This was a game played under a black sky through unceasing rain and the whole scene pretty much summed up the current state of Merseyside football. For Moyes, there is the prospect of the relegation fight which Liverpool fans were also reminding him about but only the sublime qualities of Pepe Reina stood between his side and a better outcome.

Back to fifth Liverpool might be and two points behind Arsenal with three successive league wins at Goodison to their name for only the third time in his club's history, but that is about the best of their story. They lacked any fluency – "sometimes good possession, sometimes not so good" was Rafael Benitez's description, they continue to field a Steven Gerrard who looks a mere footballing mortal and their defence looked a few seconds away from calamity in a hairy first 45 minutes. Little wonder Moyes declared that "I don't feel we've come off the pitch losers." His side were superior in every department but finishing.

But they are also in the midst one of those periods when the slightest strokes of luck will play against them. The Javier Mascherano shot which took a firm deflection of Joseph Yobo's left foot to put Liverpool ahead on 12 minutes was one – a well-placed Mascherano shot of any description is bad luck – though the same defender's failure to intercept the pass Dirk Kuyt lobbed in Gerrard's direction, allowing him to help set up the second goal was pure defensive failing. "In any games but especially big games, you hope you don't get into situations with those mistakes," said Moyes, who found no eye contact for Yobo when he brought his unhappy afternoon to an end and introduced Lucas Neill.

Benitez, by contrast, could call on Reina when Liverpool's defence malfunctioned. First, against Jo from point-blank range in a congested first-half penalty box. Then when an outswinging free kick lofted in by Johnny Heitinga left Tim Cahill with a free header on 71 minutes. Reina threw himself into a right-handed save from Cahill, then launched himself at Marouane Fellaini's follow up. Moyes, who still has only two league wins out 16 against Liverpool, acknowledged that the double save, which came with Liverpool 1-0 up, was the turning point.

Benitez came into this game sharing so many of Moyes' concerns: lack of money, lack of stadium and such a lack of recent points that Tranmere Rovers, bottom of League One, had enjoyed more wins in the previous 10 games than either of their elite neighbours. But he will reflect on his first away clean sheet of the season and the momentum that successive wins can bring. "Winning a derby is very difficult and also very important but we are higher in the table now, everybody is happier and hopefully we will keep winning some games," he said.

He also insisted that Gerrard was fit. "He just need matches." But while his captain offered that matchwinner's knack of turning a game with minimal contribution by winning the key tackle on Tony Hibbert and setting up the shot for Albert Riera which Tim Howard could only palm out to Kuyt to score the second, he looked like he needed a break. The longer Gerrard goes on like this, the more you wonder whether it would be better for him to have surgery and be done with it.

It was Steven Pienaar, his knee injury still in need of strapping, who was the game's single creative force, operating on the right flank instead of his usual left. Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, in Pienaar's usual berth, was inventive but spurned two good opportunities, including the half's gilt-edged chance which skewed wide off his left shin after an elegant flick of Tim Cahill's head had sent Hibbert's cross into his path. Everton found the net twice in that period but Jo was twice offside. If the thigh Louis Saha injured at Hull had not consigned him to the bench, you would have favoured him to have been less undone by the trap.

Everton's guests included Henry Winkler, who is playing Captain Hook in the Liverpool Empire's Peter Pan. But Happy Days these are not, for a side sixth bottom, three points off the relegation zone and with the prospect of Tottenham at home and Chelsea away. "There's encouragement but it doesn't change our position," Moyes declared darkly.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Yobo (Neill, 86), Distin, Baines; Heitinga; Bilyaletdinov, Fellaini, Cahill (Yakubu, 81); Pienaar; Jo (Saha, 66). Substitutes: Nash (gk), Gosling, Neill, Coleman, Baxter.

Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Insua; Lucas, Mascherano; Kuyt, Gerrard, Aurelio (Riera, 78); Ngog (Benayoun, 75) Substitutes: Cavalieri (gk), Aquilaini, Kyrgiakos, El Zhar, Skrtel.

Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire)

Man of the Match: Pienaar

Attendance: 39,652